Cover Story: The Direct Marketing Election
This is an important election to direct marketers for reasons that have nothing to do with who wins or loses. It has been shaped by the tools of direct marketers—and many that marketers are only just starting to explore. It's not just politics imitating marketing, but perhaps also a glimpse into direct marketing's future.
Both Democratic and Republican political campaigns are relying on increasingly large and complex databases to mine voter information. The Republican National Committee's database is called GOP Data Center (formerly Voter Vault), which Romney's campaign uses, and the Democratic National Committee's database is called VoteBuilder.
VoteBuilder is a product of NGP VAN in Somerville, Mass., which on its website bills itself as the leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations, including the Obama campaign.
Formerly termed "voter activation network," the VAN is "the interface of the software that many Democrat political campaigns and political organizations use to manage information about voters, members and volunteers," says Jim St. George, NGP VAN's managing partner.
"In the 1980s, there was one database on somebody's desk and all information had to come and go from that," St. George says. "Once we were able to take that voter file information and put it online in a very secure way, all of a sudden there are all sorts of opportunities to generate new data more easily and put it in more hands to democratize that data [and] redistribute it more broadly among campaign workers and organizational supporters."
Anybody who has been authorized by a Democrat or progressive campaign can use the system—which is password protected to lessen the chance that opponents can access it, he says. The information within the system is managed on a state-by-state basis, as most voter data is generally mapped by campaigns in each state. The Obama campaign enlists the help of state and local Democratic organizations to access this database. Romney's campaign uses the RNC database in much the same way.